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Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
29 May 2014
Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Los Angeles
Siberian born baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned to Dorothy Chandler Hall on May 22nd with a unique all Russian song recital which included songs composed to Pushkin’s poetry and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Hvorostovsky along with pianist Ivari Ilja, had been touring the United States with this and an alternate all Russian program. Though reviewers agreed that their programs were unvaryingly gloomy, the glamorous and sonorous Hvorostovksy received glowing reviews and attracted large audiences - particularly Russian speakers - wherever he appeared. Likely, he is the only classical vocalist who could have succeeded with such a dark, single language program. Hardly anything new can be added to the myriad descriptions of the dark velvety texture of Hvorostovky’s voice, or to the repeated raves about his breath control and legato singing. Yet perhaps he was a bit worried about introducing all that gloom to Southern California. As though his natural good looks, silver hair and easy smile might not be enough to carry Angelinos through two hours of minor keyed laments on lost loves, anger and death, the baritone appeared in an outfit on the Liberace side of stage wear: a form fitting tuxedo with long glitter-paved lapels. A flashing pendant and ring added to his sparkle.
He didn’t need it. His presence and voice were enough. Where a powerful baritone voice, such as Hvorostovsky possesses can be fully released in opera houses in roles such as Iago, in Otello or di Luna in Il Trovatore, song recitals are more intimate affairs. They require more varied gradations of sound and subtler techniques to communicate the meaning of every word, every musical phrase. Few opera singers have this gift. Hvorostovsky is able to move his audience’s emotions with the slightest gradations of sound, the most minimal motion of head, or hand. However, for this performance, most unusually for a recitalist, (and distractingly, for his audience), he kept an enlarged score on a music stand, to which he referred throughout the program.
The composers the Pushkin songs ranged from Glinka, a Pushkin’s contemporary to Sviridov, who was born in 1915 and lived until 1998. I have no idea of the quality of any of the Pushkin poems in Russian. One has to assume they were meaningful enough to inspire composers. However, many of the unattributed translations in the program were surprisingly lackluster and unpoetic and Hvorostovky’s interpretations for whatever reason, echoed this impression. The music of the earliest of these composition, particularly, seemed almost a warm up for the baritone. The more harmonically elaborate later songs by Nicolai Medtner and Sviridov were more compelling both for the singer and his audience. The Medtner songs too, offered the first of many opportunities for Ivari Ilja to display his virtuosity.
Shostakovitch came upon Michelangelo’s sonnets in 1974, shortly after they appeared in a Russian translation by Avram Efros. Many of these poems, written in the Italian artist’s late years, reflected the composer’s own regrets, angers and the despair he was suffering during the last years of his own troubled life. Shostakovich chose eleven sonnets, which he titled “Truth” “Morning”; “Love” “Separation” “Anger,” “Dante,” “To an Exile,” “Creativity,” “Night,” “Death” and “Immortality.” He scored them starkly for piano and bass voice, and once described the suite as consisting of “lyricism, and tragedy, and drama, and two ecstatic panegyrics in honor of Dante.” Although Shostakovich is said to have told composer Aram Katchaturian that he did not intend to orchestrate the work, he did so just before his death in August 1975, and never heard the orchestral version. Dark and depressing, even angry as these songs are, they grip the soul. The Chandler Hall audience was not asked to withhold its applause at any time during the program and rewarded each and every one of Hvorostovky’s Pushkin songs enthusiastically While the lyricism, intensity and devotion to text that Hvorostovsky brought to the Shostakovich-Michelangelo suite could not restrain the baritone’s devoted fans from responding to each song, the applause was pallid, brief and restrained as though they were torn between wanting to express their joys at hearing an adored artist, and awareness of the somber message he was delivering.
Hvorostovsky rewarded his adoring public with three encores, an impassioned Iago’s Credo, the lyrical Valente-TagliagerriPassione, and an a capella rendering of Goodbye Happiness, a Russian folk song. Each displayed a different aspect of Hvorostovsky’s artistry and stirred his audience to wild cheers, but did nothing to elevate the evening’s downbeat philosophical message.